For The Beacon
Ask anyone who knew the late Robert “Bobby” Sparks to describe the legendary Boyd County coach and a few words would instantly be duplicated.
Godly. Respected. A blessing to be around.
Sparks passed September 28 at the age of 71. Boyd County principal and girls’ basketball head coach Pete Fraley said Sparks made anything he was near, better.
“He’s such a good man and everyone who knows him is better for it,” Fraley said. “It was almost like what would Coach Sparks do. You’ve got those bracelets, “What would Jesus do?”, it was the same thing, what would Coach Sparks do?”
Boyd County senior Blake Stewart struggled for words to describe Sparks.
“One man that is so hard to describe is Coach Sparks because he means so much to the Boyd County program,” Stewart said. “It’s tough to describe him because you think that no one can be that good of a person and maybe it was fake, but that wasn’t the case. Just having him as a staple of Boyd County through all those region titles was unbelievable and I was blessed to have him as a coach and as a friend.”
Boyd County boy’s coach Randy Anderson had Sparks as his assistant from his first year at the helm of the Lions but said of all the things Sparks offered to this program; there was one thing he will never forget above all others.
“He just radiated with love,” Anderson said. “My dad passed two years ago in January and he reminds me so much of my dad. That’s how much I think of him. Both of them were very calm. Both of them really loved children and people. Both of them smiled a whole lot and when they spoke, it was just genuine gold nuggets. They both love golf but more than anything, they both love their family behind God. They were both God-fearing men.”
Know him or not, Sparks was an icon with the Boyd County program, typically dressed in his sweater tops while sitting on the bench with few words said. However, just because he said little vocally did not mean he was not speaking.
“Coach Sparks never had to yell at anyone because he was so well respected,” Stewart said. “If he ever said a word to you, then you knew it was what you had to do.”
Fraley elected to compare Sparks to a historical speaker from the early 1900s.
“I’m probably going to date myself here, but when E.F. Hutton spoke, you listened,” Fraley said of the financial advisor. “Well, when Coach Sparks spoke, everybody listened because it was profound. Just his demeanor had the way of calming everyone down. He would crack a joke in the middle of the game just to get your mind off it and it would remind you that it was only a game.”
Stewart recalled his pregame routine with Sparks.
“Before any game, I would always sit on the end of the bench and Coach Sparks would talk to me about what to do before the game,” Stewart said. “He would always calm me down before a big game. He would give me insight of what I needed to do.
“Coach Sparks was always a calming piece on our sideline. If we were in the region championship, up by three or whatever and we would be over there celebrating, Coach Sparks would always remind us this thing wasn’t over yet. He reminded us to stay calm. I mean, he had been there and done that and we will miss that.”
No one around the Boyd County community has been around Sparks as much as Fraley, who made his first interaction with Sparks in middle school.
“He was my seventh-grade basketball coach,” Fraley said. “He’s been the same the 40 years I’ve been fortunate enough to know him. Everything everybody tells you about how great of a man he was, is true. He was a great coach, but an even better man.”
But Fraley admits he always looked at Sparks as Superman.
“I always thought he was invincible,” he said. “It’s Coach Sparks; nothing can happen to him. It’s devastating to our community and not just our community. He lived in the Russell area and went to school at Fairview and he’s just touched so many lives. Just truly a special, special man.”
Fraley said it’s was easy to see how many lives Sparks had touched by the sheer number of people that poured out to say their goodbyes.
“Just look at the number of people who signed the register Tuesday night at the visitation,” Fraley said. “Over 2000 names and so many that didn’t sign and then just a huge crowd Wednesday at the funeral. Opposing coaches but when you look out there and see kids that he’s coached again that comes back, that speaks volumes about him.”
Stewart began laughing when thinking back about Sparks’ inability to be a stranger regardless of how far away from home the Lions might have been.
“We always give him a hard time about how many people he knew and how many people he hugged,” Stewart said with a chuckle. “We could go 6-8 hours away and there would be 10 people he knew. I used to ask him how he knew so many people and he would just say once you’ve been around so long you get to know everybody.”
Anderson echoed Stewart’s words.
“I’ve never known coach to meet a stranger,” he said. “He always had a kind word or a compliment.”
And when Sparks spoke, Anderson said he never beat around the bush.
“He was always to the point, even in the heat of the biggest games,” Anderson said. “It didn’t matter if it was the home opener, mid-season or in a regional game or the state tournament. He always had a way about how he would look at you and the softness of how he spoke. He could get up in some kid’s grill and the kid never even know it just because of the tone he used and how he spoke with his body.”
With all the kind words those around Sparks had to offer, Anderson said good luck trying to find anyone that spoke otherwise.
“You can’t find a person that has an ill word to say about him,” he said. “I’ve been here for 10 years—and not that I’m looking—but I have never, ever heard anyone say anything wrong about him. His testimony is going to live in our locker room and in our lives. We were just blessed to have that kind of example around us on a daily basis.”
With official practices now less than two weeks away, Anderson said the adjustment of Sparks not being there will be difficult.
“He was our rock,” Anderson said. “It didn’t matter whether it was before practice, post-practice, halftime or post-game, coach would always sit there and either have his hand on his chin, arms crossed or legs crossed and just listened. I would always come back to him and ask what he thought, and it was always something simple and straight to the point.”
Anderson quickly recalled a quote Sparks would say early in the season.
“‘Boys, we’ve gotta coach them hard but we’ve gotta love them even harder,’” Anderson said of Sparks motivational words. “He just had such a good heart.”
But with the voice of calm and reason gone from the Lions’ program, Anderson said what Sparks brought to the program is irreplaceable.
“People say he’s going to be hard to replace and I say I don’t want to replace him,” Anderson said. “He is us and it’s going to be different. It’s going to be sad at times. When we do good things defensively, it’s going to be his spirit that leads us to it. We are going to leave a chair open for him this season and put one of his sweater tops on it.”
Although Spark's body will no longer grace the Boyd County locker room, Anderson said his legacy will live forever.
“He will live on with us,” he said. “I have two really good pictures of him hanging in the locker room and I’m going to make it a point each day to not just look at them, but rather study them. He’s impacted my life so much and he continually will.”
Stewart added he was lucky to have the time he had around Sparks.
“He was a great Christian and just a great guy to look up to,” Stewart said. “He was such a blessing to be around and we are just a blessed basketball team to have had him.”